New Testament Congregationalism

A. B. Barret

(Bro. Barret was the founder and president of Abilene Christian College.)

The word "church" is used for the body, the kingdom, as a whole; for congregations in a district, as Judea, Macedonia, and Asia, and for a local congregation in any place. In our study of New Testament congregationalism, I mean what we might term church or congregational autonomy, or self-government.

The New Testament knows nothing about "church organization" in the sense of organizing the body as a whole. There can be no such church government. Neither can the church universal be called upon to function as a unit. It can neither sue nor be sued. There can be no church organization in this sense. The general church has no head but Christ.

We read nowhere in the New Testament that the churches, or congregations, of a district ever combined for any purpose. Each individual congregation of the seven churches of Asia was separately addressed through its own particular angel, or messenger. And yet everything said to one congregation was equally applicable to all like congregations. Rev. 22:16.

The only church organization that the New Testament reveals is the organization of a group of disciples in a given locality into a local congregation, composed of baptized, penitent believers, with Scriptural elders (presbyters, bishops, overseers, pastors, shepherds whose duties are clearly defined, and no one is the superior of the other) and Scriptural deacons. Every church of Christ is thus divinely constituted so as to function independently of all other like congregations. There is no New Testament authority for combining two or more such congregations for any purpose whatsoever. If any such combination is accomplished, it is wholly without the place of New Testament teaching, hence unscriptural and sinful.

All such congregations assembled on the first day of the week for worship and services; "and they continued steadfastly in the apostles' teaching," the breaking of bread, fellowship, and in prayers. Each member did what he could do, contributing of his means, time, and talent to the edification and the building up of the church. There was no other cooperation among such congregations than that of one congregation sending messengers to other congregations for assistance in charity and in missions; and when their mission was accomplished they returned and reported to the home congregation, and their responsibilities ceased. There were no "brotherhood colleges," "Church papers," "church orphanages," "old folks' homes," and the like, among apostolic congregations. . . The churches established by the apostles did not contribute to any organization other than a sister congregation. All "church" movements should be kept under the local congregation.

This divine plan of congregationalism continued till wicked men crept in and led brethren into apostasy. Such apostates from the truth soon induced churches to organize societies of their own devising, to contribute their funds to other such organizations. . .

History repeats itself. Following the restoration of the ancient order of things, launched by Stone, Campbell, and others, men of worldly ambition crept in among us. So now we have "delegates," "brotherhood colleges," "orphanages," "brotherhood publishing houses," and "literature," all of which is just as foreign to New Testament teaching as were the corruptions of the congregationalism of the churches of the early centuries of Christianity. Individual Christians, any number, may Scripturally engage in any worthy work, such as running colleges, papers, and orphanages, and other individual Christians may properly assist them in every proper way; but no local congregation should he called upon as such, to contribute a thing to any such enterprises. Such a call would be out of harmony with the word of the living God. And if any congregation so contributes, it transcends its Scriptural prerogatives.

Churches of Christ work only with individuals and with other congregations.

Note: (The above article by Bro. A. B. Barret appeared in the Gospel Advocate, March 13, 1930, page 247. This should be clear to anyone that opposition to church support of human institutions is not something new. Furthermore, there was not a brotherhood benevolent institution among us 70 years ago. It should be evident that those who oppose the church support of human institutions are not the ones responsible for dividing the church over these matters. Those responsible for innovations into the work and worship of the church have always been responsible for driving the wedge that divides the body of Christ. This was true in regard to the Missionary society and mechanical instruments cf music and it is true today in regard to sponsoring church type of cooperation and the church support of human institutions.)

Truth Magazine IV:9, p. 12
June 1960